|Project by Mark A. DeCou||posted 05-09-2011 04:20 PM||12002 views||15 times favorited||25 comments|
I just finished this Natural Edged Nakashima Inspired end table. It is the first finished in a set of two tables. The extraordinary wood for the top is Kansas Spalted Sycamore, with a Kansas black walnut modern contemporary base. The matching table top on the next table will be the bookmatched board cut just below this one on the log
If you would like something similar, you can commission this piece here
If you have questions, please email me:
If you like Nakashima Inspired Work, you might enjoy seeing this Conoid Base Table Project:
I ordered a “sycamore” log for this project, and expected the standard light colored wood, with a rather boring grain pattern. Actually, that’s what I ordered, since it was to match a coffee table slab top that I built in 2006 that had rather plain grain.
I wanted the bookmatched center boards from the log, so that I could pull out the quartersawn features of the boards cut close to the center of the log. That’s really all I was expecting.
Sycamore can be really pretty when quartersawn cut, but is rather plain grained in rift, or plain sawn lumber. Still it makes an interesting contrast in color to black walnut, so I enjoy using them in combination. Kansas has a lot of sycamore trees that grow along the rivers and creeks in the Flint Hills, Tall Grass prairie area that I call home. And, it’s an unappreciated wood around here, so I enjoy giving it’s wood “new life” in a piece of furniture.
So, I ordered the sycamore log, but when the log was cut, what I discovered when the boards were delivered to me was this extraordinary spalting. I knew immediately that it would be beautiful and stuck my thumbnail all around the surface cautiously, not expecting it to really be possible, worrying that I’d find that it had already gone “spunky”. It was all hard and solid, the spalting process was perfect without any rotted areas.
So, you see I waited patiently for a year to get the sycamore log, and another two years to let the wood air dry. I could hardly wait until the wood had seasoned enough to use for a commissioned set of end tables, purchased by a customer of the previous coffee table project I built in the Nakashima Inspired style.
One thing about natural edged, wide and thick boards, you can’t rush the drying process. If you do, it can split and warp to where it is unusable, unless just for firewood. If the drying is rushed, later when it does fully season in your home, the shrinkage causes all kinds of things you don’t want.
I’ve found the best way is to be patient, and that’s hard for me, and hard for my clients at times. But, patience pays off every time. Some things can’t be rushed, even in this computer generated world filled with factories and robots. I guess that’s something I like about working with wood.
The patience, the singular focus, the effort…..all of that makes it an enjoyable activity for me. The final project result is just the end of a long list of activities in the process….like a journey. I’m not trying to be all “mushy” or philosophical, I’m just trying to explain the reasons why someone like me would cough up dust all night, wear band-aids, be willing to invest their life savings and best years in a low-margin venture, where buckets of gold at the end weren’t expected, nor found. That’s a hard thing for some folks to understand. The nice thing about “Lumberjocks” is that these folks “get it”.
I added walnut dovetail butterflies to the top to secure some long cracks, and also to compliment the grain in the top. What I love most about Nakashima work is the use of unique, live edge boards, with all the flaws and bark inclusions, and knot holes, and those subtle butterfly dovetails. In other styles of furniture, we cut around the knots, and rip out the splits, and throw out the spalted sections, and the bug eaten edges are cut off. When I look for a log nowadays, I look for something with lots of bumps and limbs, and twists on the side of the tree, as those “flaws” seem to yield the most unusual pieces of wood. Those “flaws” are sometimes a real pain to work with, so I can understand why furniture factories stay away from such wood.
So, I felt this little table was a wonderful way to use a tree in it’s natural state…..natural state, what am I thinking? I guess so if you include cutting it down, sawing it into boards, stickering & weighting it down, and waiting on it to air dry, rough sanding it flat, adding butterfly dovetails, stabilizing the cracks with glue, filling in bark inclusions, sanding, sanding, and more sanding, mop sanding the edges, saturating it in Danish Oil, and finally spraying on two or three dozen layers of hand-rubbed nitrocellulose lacquer finish….....a lot of work really, but without the natural extraordinary spalting, this table would just be a table. If I could get every board to look like this, I’d never leave sycamore and walnut.
A Cross-Cultural Arranged Marriage?
For the base, this is something of a design I came up with on my own, at least I can’t find anything exactly like it in the two Nakashima books, but it is based on their design ideals and concepts.
I was looking for something of a modern sculptural design that would say,”hey did you see that incredible top!” Something interesting, but yet, not distracting from the top board.
In my opinion, the genius of the Nakashima work was/is the combination of natural live edges on a base that has an architectural feel to it. It’s like bringing together two cultures that don’t fit, but are bonded together through an arranged marriage. You can’t get that “feel” with log feet on a table like this.
here is a photo showing the base frame I made to hold the top flat and allow it to do it’s seasonal movements
thanks for reading,
-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com